Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 19, 1999


The South Lawn

8:40 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I'm delighted to be joined this morning by the Secretary of Education and by my Domestic Policy Advisor Bruce Reed to discuss the very important issue of our children's schools.

In my State of the Union address this year, I said that in order to meet our responsibility to create 21st century schools for all our children, we have to do a far, far better job of spending the $15 billion in federal aid we send to our schools every year.

Building these kinds of schools has been a passion for me, for the Vice President, for Secretary Riley, for our entire administration. We have worked with members of Congress and education leaders, people in every state of the country, for over six years now. We have supported higher standards, better teachers, new technology, modern facilities, innovations like charter schools, character education, school uniforms.

But we know fundamentally that if we are going to change the way our schools work, we must change the way we invest federal aid in our schools.

On the way down here, just down the walk, the Secretary of Education said we have been working very hard to promote school standards around the country; now we have to get the standards actually into the schools. This week I am sending legislation to the Congress designed to do just that.

First, this legislation strengthens accountability for results. It says that states and school districts that choose to accept federal aid must take responsibility for turning around failing schools, or shutting them down. It says they must give parents report cards not just on their children, but on the children's schools. It says school districts must have strong discipline codes that are fair, consistent, and focused on prevention. It says they must make sure that teachers actually know the subjects they are teaching. It says they must stop the practice of social promotion, not by holding students back, but by making sure they have the support to meet the higher standards.

This legislation triples funding for after-school and summer school programs, provides for smaller classes, and requires other early interventions that lift students up.

Second, this legislation will put more highly-trained teachers in our nation's schools. It requires that all new teachers pass subject matter and skills tests, that all teachers be given the support they need to improve their knowledge and skills. It allows Congress to finish the job we started last fall of hiring 100,000 new, highly-trained teachers to reduce class size in the early grades.

Finally, the legislation will help give all our children safe, healthy and disciplined learning environments. For the first time, it will require schools to adopt comprehensive school safety plans, use proven anti-drug and anti-violence prevention programs, intervene with troubled youth, establish security procedures for schools, and give parents an annual report of drug and violent incidents at their children's schools.

It also expands the character education efforts the Secretary of Education has done so much to advance, promotes alternative schools for disruptive students, and strengthens our policy of zero tolerance for guns by requiring that any student expelled for bringing a gun to school receive appropriate treatment and counseling before being allowed back into class.

As I said yesterday, we must do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of our children. I want to commend the Senate for yesterday's overwhelming, bipartisan support for child safety locks. And I commend Speaker Hastert for his leadership in supporting background checks at gun shows, and for raising the age of handgun ownership to 21. I urge the Senate to keep working on the Justice bill, the Juvenile Justice bill, and to bring these common-sense measures to a vote.

Now, these education ideas are not Democratic or Republican, nor were they dreamed up in Washington. They were invented and proven successful in the laboratories of democracy at the school, city and state levels. They preserve and enhance the flexibility that states and districts need to run successful schools. If the federal government fails to act, the best of these practices will spread, but much more slowly. Just remember, it took 100 years for laws mandating universal education to spread from a few states to every state. That pace of change might have been all right in the 19th century; it won't do in the 21st century. We do not have the luxury of waiting and continuing to subsidize failure.

Nothing we can do will more surely unite our people and strengthen our nation than giving all of our children a high-quality education. We know what works -- our schools, our educators have shown us what works. It is time to put that as a condition of success in the investment of federal aid in every child in America. And I want to thank the Secretary of Education and Mr. Reed and everyone else who has worked on this program.

Thank you very much.

Q Mr. President, on the Balkans, can we ask you a question about the Balkans?

Q Do you like the peace proposal by Talbott -- that Talbott is taking to Moscow? What do you think of it?

END 8:45 A.M. EDT


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